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President Köhler resigns

AFP/DDP/The Local · 31 May 2010, 18:25

Published: 31 May 2010 14:12 GMT+02:00
Updated: 31 May 2010 18:25 GMT+02:00

"I announce my resignation from the office of the federal presidency with immediate affect," Köhler said in Berlin.

He said the decision came after withering criticism of comments he made connecting Germany's military deployment in Afghanistan with the country's economy.

"This criticism had absolutely no justification," said the 67-year-old former head of the International Monetary Fund.

Looking emotional, Köhler asked for his supporters to understand his surprising resignation. The conservative Christian Democrats was nominated to be the country's largely ceremonial head of state in 2004 and re-elected in 2009.

"It was an honour for me to serve Germany," he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she regretted his departure.

"I tried to get the president to change his mind but unfortunately I was unsuccessful," Merkel told reporters.

"I always worked very well together with Horst Köhler. He was an important adviser, particularly in the financial and economic crisis, with his large international experience. I will miss this advice."

Click here to see more photos of President Horst Köhler.

But his remarks just over a week ago prompted a furious debate about Germany’s military engagement – and whether Köhler had damaged the image of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Köhler began by saying that Germany was in the country, alongside its allies, to ensure its security and that it was good and proper for these issues to be openly and robustly discussed.

He then added: “But my estimation is that, on the whole, we are on the way to understanding, even broadly in society, that a country of our size, with this orientation toward foreign trade and therefore also dependence on foreign trade, has to be aware that when in doubt in case of an emergency, military deployment is also necessary to protect our interests.

For example, free trade routes, for example to prevent instability in a whole region, which certainly have an negative impact on our opportunities via trade, jobs and income. All of that ought to be discussed and I believe that we are not doing too badly.”

The remarks appeared to be a major departure from the political orthodoxy on the Afghanistan mission, which says the Bundeswehr is there to protect Germany from terrorist groups who would use the country as a base were it to descend into lawlessness or Islamist theocracy.

Story continues below…

Köhler said his comments were "misunderstood" and that he was not referring to the mission in Afghanistan, where Germany has 4,500 troops in a NATO-led force fighting a Taliban-led insurgency.

But Wichard Woyke from the University of Münster told television station N-TV that he deserved the hefty criticism because he had spoken out of turn.

"It is not the president's job to get mixed up in political affairs but he did. He should not be surprised that the criticism was so severe," said Woyke.

According to the German constitution, the president of the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, will temporarily take over Köhler's duties. Currently that post is held by Bremen Mayor Jens Böhrnsen from the centre-left Social Democrats.

The German president is elected by the Federal Convention comprising members of both houses of parliament. His replacement must now be elected within the next 30 days.

Related links:

AFP/DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

15:26 May 31, 2010 by William Thirteen
a politician also speaks the truth to his own peril...
17:01 May 31, 2010 by lecturenotes2009
and then, we can attack china, when it turns out that china threatens our country, in term of free trade, jobs and income? LOL...
18:31 May 31, 2010 by JohnnesKönig
Coincidental that he quits amidst the Israeli attack?
18:55 May 31, 2010 by ColoSlim
He is correct and justified in saying so and should not be resigning, unless he just wants to. All countries act in their own best interest. Germany doesn't use Gun Boat Diplomacy per say but they are looking out for their security and economic interests.
22:11 May 31, 2010 by Britpat
Speaking the truth is a bad policy for a politician. It is obvious why the major powers are there; I am amazed he did not tough it out. There must be more behind this story.

Investigative journalists, please take note.
23:23 May 31, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, a major political leader must have enough inner strength to survive verbal jabs from their critics. You can't possibly satisfy everyone. At least Kohler was an honest political figure. How many of those are in the world today?
00:14 June 1, 2010 by romber58
I think that he had had enough anyway and used this as a good excuse to leave.

It would not have been difficult to spin this story another way if he had really wanted to carry on as president.

Germany is such a piddily political correct country
00:19 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Honesty has dire consequences in politics.
05:09 June 1, 2010 by wenddiver
A good leader. A shame Germany doesn't have more like hin.
11:58 June 1, 2010 by Major B
Surprisingly decent comments so far on this. So glad the ignorant "mud" comments haven't come -- so far. Interesting points of view: "more behind the story"; "politicians can't speak honestly". The debate itself is good. Am in agreement that he should "tough it out" but then maybe he had just "Had Enough".
16:41 June 1, 2010 by Wim van Couveren
In remarks announcing his resignation one could clearly see a frustrated and even somewhat arrogant former businessman whose ego had obviously been assailed.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund - Mr Kohler thought that he was still working in the US for the right-wing IMF -where this type of statement might be readily welcomed, or excused or just swept under the carpet - however in the highest political office in Germany this is not possible.

Mr Kohler has completely misread popular opinion in Germany regarding this contentious issue and should never have made his views known ­ the Presidents role as neutral aribiter are strictly defined in the German constitution.

Mr Köhler¦#39;s friends in Angela Merkel¦#39;s centre-right coalition government were clearly embarrassed ­ however there was little they could do and it seemed clear this morning that it could easily become a case of ¦#39;man-overboard¦#39; ­ as much as his announcement did come as a surprise.

His action will bring more pressure on the shoulders of Angela Merkel ­ un-needed and certainly un-wanted pressure in the middle of the largest financial crisis since the 1930¦#39;s.

Whether he has been pushed or whether he has decided to go on his own, or a bit of both - in spite of his words about ¦#39;serving Germany¦#39; ­ one cannot come away from his' fit of pique' resignation other than to conclude that Mr Kohler cares more about Mr Kohler than about anything else.
19:00 June 1, 2010 by Henckel
Perhaps now Germany can agree on a canddidate for president who can heal the political divisions of the nation.
22:32 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
My comment wasn't about his character or his politics. I just thought it ironic that he publicly identified the elephant in the room when he (probably inadvertently} let the truth slip out. I don't care for his politics. I'm just amused that he busted himself and his party for their hypocrisy.
23:15 June 1, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, the biggest problem with humanity is that it has feared the truth since the very beginning of time. And as a result, one generation after another has encountered disappointment, instability and chaos.

Yes, the truth in most formats will never be popular. However, whenever it is delivered through a very high degree of logic, then it will then be extremely effective.

The problem is, is that so far, no one has figured out how to do this.

If humans continue to lie and pretend, then what hope is there?
23:17 June 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
You're right, Forrest, as usual. Abandon all hope.
23:16 June 2, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, Prufrock, you and I are beginning to have intellectual exchanges. Don't screw things up by trying twist my words.

Simply read above. I have never said or suggested, in any comment, that humanity should give up. In fact, if there has ever been an optimist, that I'm certainly one of them.

I have very high standards. And I speak words of true wisdom, in an effort to help solve difficult and complex problems that confronts humanity.

With high self-esteem, everyone would be inspired to seek and accept the truth. Surely this is the key to everything.
01:51 June 3, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Please, Forrest, don't accuse me of having "intellectual exchanges" with you. That would imply that I think you have an intellect.
13:53 June 3, 2010 by Johnny Cash
It looks like the comment just slipped out. If he didn't agree with the reasons Germany is in Afganistan and he had any courage and integrity he should have spelled his position out loud and clear in his resignation speech. As usual, just another gutless politician. As far as popular opinion goes, I don't know who people are talking to, but my wide group of friends are pretty much of the opinion that Germany should not be there supporting the war mongering USA.
00:13 June 5, 2010 by DrGideonPolya
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
15:54 June 6, 2010 by Kennneth Ingle
I know It is a bit late for this one, but being away for a week, I did not hear the news. The German President, spoke the truth and anyone honest enough would say so.

The German President however is not a President of the people, but is put in power by the Parliament. That alone makes him very weak in comparison with other Presidents.

Add to this, the fact that the German Government is voted into power by an electorate which afterwards is completely ignored by the Political parties which take power, it is clear that speaking the truth is just wanted in this country.

Looking through history, it more often than not, the Governments of Germany, not the normal people, which have ruined this nation.

Horst Höhler is just another victim of this country's political suicide.
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